Travelers— How to Arrange the Best Work Trade Experience
A detailed approach for arranging a fun and safe experience through WorkAway.
Throughout my travels, I’ve found that work trade is the best way to have unique experiences with a tiny price tag. Because travel is about more than getting your picture taken in the same spot as that girl you follow on Instagram. Travel is about meeting people, discovering cultures, and trying new things!
I’ve had five WorkAway hosts, two out of five were unfortunate experiences. They were also my first two. After that, I learned what to do to have the best work trade experience.
When I first started with WorkAway, I wasn’t really sure what to do. The website has some articles on safety and contacting hosts, but it wasn’t enough to really get my bearings. So, I just started applying to hosts, following the loose guidelines.
I felt exceptionally grateful when I was accepted by a few of the hosts I contacted. So grateful, in fact, that I didn’t really ask questions — I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I organized the basic arrangements and called it good.
We traveled to Iceland with only minimal knowledge of the hosts we’d be staying with. My only sources of comfort came from the fact that I wasn’t alone and that I had a backup plan (dipping into savings to stay at a hostel until I could arrange another host).
You don’t have to go into this experience blindly like I did. Follow my guidelines below, and you will feel much more confident with your work trade.
WorkAway Tip #1: Read every profile that you apply for.
What a host’s profile emphasizes and leaves out speaks volumes about the host’s character. First, check the following:
- Date of last activity — if it’s been months, they’re probably not actively looking for volunteers.
- Map of host’s location — make sure you understand which town/city they’re located in.
- The host’s availability — most hosts update this when they’re active.
- Languages spoken — since WorkAway is in English, most hosts speak English. But double check to make sure that you’ll be able to communicate!
- Accommodation — sometimes hosts offer private bedrooms or guest houses, but you’ll also find hosts offering tents outside or barn lofts.
- How many Workawayers can stay? — Make sure this matches your preference.
- Feedback — if the host has reviews, read them! If you have questions, most Workawayers can be contacted to ask them about their experience.
If everything there looks good, go back and read the rest. If at any point, it doesn’t feel like a good fit, stop reading. If you get the bottom, great!
Pro Tip: It gets old reading profiles, especially when a host is incredibly detailed and you don’t realize that they only accept singles (when you’re a pair) once you reach the bottom of the page — time wasted. When searching for hosts, be sure to use all of the parameters in the search function to narrow down hosts that will work for you.
WorkAway Tip #2: Make notes on every profile you look at.
Even if it’s not a good fit. There is a handy tool for doing so on each profile page. Just click “Add a note for yourself about this listing,” and write. If it wasn’t a good fit, note that. That way, you won’t accidentally read it again later. If it was a good fit, note why and add the profile to your host list.
The best part about these notes is that you can see them while viewing your Host List (so you don’t have to open each profile).
WorkAway Tip #3: Travel with a friend.
…if it makes you more comfortable. For your first time doing work trade, it’s usually a good idea to take a friend with you. Often it enriches the experience when shared with someone you care about. Additionally, it increases your level of safety to have someone at your back.
Through WorkAway, you can have a joint account (typically for couples), or you can link your account to a friend’s for ease of application. Read more about this here.
WorkAway Tip #4: Send the host a personalized message.
All of the messaging is done through the WorkAway website. Once you’re done reading the host’s profile page, you can send them a message with the “Contact” button near the top of their profile page.
Base the content of your message on what you read in their profile.
- Introduce yourself and explain why you’re interested in their profile.
- Tell the host what you bring to their table — i.e. what skills are they seeking that you possess.
- Mention dates or a time range and ask about their availability.
- Write an informative subject line. For example, something like “Help with eco-project in September”
WorkAway Tip #5: After a host agrees to have you, it’s time to ask questions.
Even if something is specified in their profile, I still ask these questions because stuff changes, and profiles don’t always get updated. Quote their profile and ask questions specifically about what they wrote.
This can also be combined with step #6 (video/phone chat), but I prefer to have all the answers in writing for reference.
This is roughly what my (admittedly formal) follow-up message says:
Hi [Insert Host’s Name],
Thank you inviting me to work with you during [insert agreed upon dates]. Before we make travel arrangements, I have a few questions for you regarding the trade. I apologize in advance for any redundancies already answered in your profile — I simply want to clarify that the profile is accurate and up-to-date.
- Your profile lists the expected work hours as “Maximum 4–5 hours per day, 5 days a week.” Would you say that is an accurate representation?
- What does a typical work day include? Is there an expected schedule?
- Other than the work described in your profile, are there any other responsibilities you expect of me?
- In your profile, the accommodation is described as “[insert description].” Is that the accommodation that I/we will inhabit? Will I/we inhabit it alone, or will anyone else use the room?
- Are both food and lodging included in the trade? Will I/we be expected to prepare my/our own meals, shop for my/our own food, eat what the family eats, etc.?
- Other than the [insert activity] described in your profile, what is there to do in your area on rest days?
- Is the area easily navigated on foot? Will I/we have access to a bicycle or other mode of transportation?
- Do you expect to have any other WorkAway volunteers staying with you during that time?
Thank you for your time answering my questions. I’m sure you understand the importance of clarifying the nature of our arrangement before my/our arrival.
I/We look forward to hearing from you,
[Insert Your Name(s)]
WorkAway Tip #6: Video chat or talk on the phone.
If the host answers your questions in a way that you find acceptable, ask to arrange a video chat or phone call.
With almost every communication app, you can call/video chat over WIFI with someone on the other side of the world. This is essentially free, so why not do it? You can learn a lot about someone over the phone — and it’s good stuff to learn before you live in someone’s house.
WorkAway Tip #7: Get the Host’s Contact Information.
After your arrangement is agreed upon, request the following information from your host (and be willing to share the first three items with them in return — remember, they have to trust you enough to invite you into their homes).
- Full Name
- Phone number
- Facebook/Social Media profiles/Email
- Home Address
This might sound invasive, but it’s stuff that you will generally learn while living with someone. So, if they’re not willing to share it with you, they shouldn’t be willing to have you in their home.
If the host asks why you need this information, tell them your parent/partner/family member needs to know in case of emergency. If they are not willing to share that information, you should not be willing to live them.
WorkAway Tip #8: Share all your travel plans and the host’s details with your emergency contact(s).
Send your contact a link to your host’s profile page on WorkAway, the host’s contact information from step #7, and the messaging history between you and the host.
If the host’s profile doesn’t include photos of the family, take a screenshot of the video chat, and share it with your emergency contact.
Your contact should never need to use any of this information, but it’s better safe than sorry.
WorkAway Tip #9: Get travel insurance.
Particularly if you are traveling somewhere outside of your home country, you always want to have travel insurance. Particularly with the increased risks associated with work trade (work-related injury), it’s important to make sure you’re covered in the event of an accident.
I like to buy insurance from World Nomads because they allow for flexible dates and locations (so, if you choose to stay for an extra week or decide to go on a weekend jaunt to a neighboring country — you can simply adjust your policy). If World Nomads doesn’t work for you, this website is great for comparing plans based on your needs.
[Note: I receive no compensation in exchange for these travel insurance recommendations. I recommend them solely based off of personal experience.]
WorkAway functions based on trust. Without it, the whole system would fall apart. With that being said, don’t give your trust to just anyone. If you are ever suspicious or worried about a work trade arrangement, back out. No cheap travel is worth endangering yourself.
That being said, work trade is a really amazing experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time getting to know the families I lived with, learning new skills, and experiencing new places and cultures from a local’s perspective.
After our first two mistake hosts, we got along great with everyone else we stayed with — largely because we understood each other before we arrived.
It took staying with those two bad hosts for me to realize that I shouldn’t be grateful when a host chooses me because I have a lot to offer! It’s exciting to be chosen, and nice to feel wanted, but it’s not worth jeopardizing your safety for the sake of gratitude.
My three good hosts all respected my concern for safety because they were also concerned for their own families’ safety. So, they didn’t mind a barrage of questions — they returned the favor. And as a result, we got along great and had an enriching experience together.
Any other questions? I’d love to help you out!
Dear Travel Enthusiast —
It is in your best interest to find passion in caring for the planet. The places you love to visit, the vistas you dream of witnessing, the serene corners you long to escape to, and the daring adventures you hope to endure are changing. Humans are marring the face of the Earth. What can you do to help it? Get the checklist that provides eco-action items for you to incorporate into your daily life. Learn about the impact that small lifestyle changes can make, and implement them into your daily routine. Let’s fix our mistakes and move into a green future.
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Originally posted May 9, 2018 on The Post-Grad Survival Guide